To beat good football teams, it's imperative to play well for most of the game. To beat great football teams, it's vital to play well for 48 minutes, and the Hopkinsville Tigers fell just short of that mark Friday night at the Stadium of Champions.
Despite 322 passing yards from Jay Bland and 171 receiving yards for Reece Jesse, the Tigers fell to Mayfield 27-22.
Hopkinsville coach Craig Clayton said the Cardinals are good enough to exploit when other teams make mistakes.
"When you play good teams like this, you get exposed," he said. "You get exposed for your weaknesses and that's why I always play good teams like this early because now I know what I have to work on to make our team better and the players know what they have to work on to make our team better.
"Mayfield's so well-coached, so disciplined," he continued. "They just don't make a lot of mistakes. I think it's going to help us a lot. The one thing we did constantly was play hard and that's the main thing. If we play hard, we're going to get better. We're going to get better in practice, get better in the game. I'm proud of our team. I think we got the makings of a good team."
The Tigers struck first when Jayden Dillard punched it in from three yards outs but every time Hopkinsville made a play Friday, the Cardinals were right there behind them to make an even bigger play.
A minute later, Jayden Stinson found Tate Puckett for a 52-yard score to tie the game at 7-all.
After the Tigers found some more points on a Mason Marschand field goal, Hoptown led 10-7 after the first quarter.
Trailing 14-10, Jesse found his first score of the night when he and Bland connected for a 23-yard score.
The touchdown gave Hopkinsville a 16-14 lead at the break.
Two long Cardinals touchdowns in the fourth quarter gave Mayfield a 27-16 lead with 5:28 left, but the Tigers weren't done yet.
Bland found Jesse for a 50-yard touchdown with Jesse shedding a few Cardinal defenders en route to his fourth touchdown of the year.
Jesse dropped a couple of balls early in the game but he came back in a big way.
"He came back and really played well," Clayton said. "That's what a D-I guy looks likes. People should have left the stadium going 'that guy's really good.' If you're a D-I guy, people know it. If you're a college guy, period, people know it."
Clayton said he knows Bland and the rest of his offense is going to continue to progress.
"Offensively we're going to get better every week," he said. "Right now, we missed too many blocks but they did a lot of stunts that we hadn't seen and some twists. We're just not experienced yet. Running backs did the same thing, receivers ran some bad routes, dropped some balls early. We just got to get everybody involved again."
The Tiger defense gave up some big plays but a bright spot was the play of JeVon Leavell. Leavell finished with an interception and fumble recovery in the loss.
"I'm just proud of our kids," he said. "I think they played really well."
Hoptown is taking Monday off, but Clayton said he's getting back to the fundamentals next week.
The Tigers host Caldwell County at 7 p.m. Friday at the Stadium of Champions.